“Why are you laughing at me?”
A phrase that never seemed too important to learn until the day I needed to use it. Now, I will never forget it.
During my first week at site, I have already experienced some minor highs and some depressing lows. Or as Peace Corps likes to refer to it as “The Emotional Roller Coaster.” I would more appropriately refer to it as “The Emotional Train Wreck,” which all took place in the matter seven days.
I knew “serving while Black,” would come with its own set of challenges. But, in all honesty, I thought to myself, “it won’t be THAT bad,” until the day, it was THAT bad.
Don’t get me wrong, all PCVs have their challenges. Some black volunteers in other countries, cities, towns, or villages may never experience anything close to what I have experienced. Each PCVs, no matter what their background is, experience is so unique. There is absolutely no chance that what happens to one volunteer will happen to the next.
In joining the Peace Corps and moving to Namibia, I felt that “serving with Black,” for me would be one of the biggest blessing ever.
No one is going to ask me for money, I thought.
No one will tell me I am going to marry or date them, check.
No one will stare at me.
All of these have been proven false in just one week.
Truth is, in a village, where everyone knows everyone, I’m like the new girl in high school. I stand out.
At times, I feel like Americans whom look “American” (from a foreigners perspective) are forgiven more quickly for butchering local languages or for cultural faux pas.
For myself, I feel like there is less forgiveness at times.
Mom, sorry if you’re reading this.
For the first time this past week, I felt myself get so defeated I questioned: Why am I here?. I wanted to scream every bad word that came to my head and throw up the bird on my way out. Because, where I’m from, I would never see these people again. It took EVERYTHING within me not to exit the scene total “Tammy” style.
Sure, the “blending in” is great, until I have open my mouth to ask, “where’s the toilet?” or “can you take me to the bank?” It doesn’t take long for the laundry list of questions ensue as I stumble through all of the canned responses I know.
The “blending in” is great until someone calls you an “American nigger” to remind you that you’re not from here, you’re not one of us.
This has been a challenging, soul-searching, tear-jerking, blood-boiling week for me, ya’ll.
I think it would be a disfavor to myself and all of you to only tell you about the highlights of my Peace Corps service. And as I mentioned before, EVERYONE’S experience is different, vastly different.
There will be countless times in the next two years I’ll be bent, but I can’t break.
There will be countless times I won’t understand what the hell is going on, but I am here, and I’ll have to roll with the punches.
There will be countless times I will want to take my ball and go home.
I will be laughed at, stared at, proposed at.
I have to remember and acknowledge that this is a two-way street. I am here to learn about Namibia and Namibians, in the same way I can find teachable moments to teach Namibians about America and Americans and African-Americans.
Not only that, I may be the first and very well the last American some Namibians will ever meet.
I have to remember, even across borders, people speak in ignorance. The same way you and I do at times.
I have been so fortunate to have wonderful friends and family back home, as well as my new Peace Corps family to be able to talk to during this past week. Most of them had no clue how my week was, until now.
With all of my struggles of the past week, many people reached out to me, even people I hadn’t talked to in years without even knowing what was really going on.
Eventually, the roller coaster reaches the top and at the top, there’s a beautiful view.